Feb 7, 2012

Love and Language Precision

In my philosophy class the other day, we were discussing how a lot of philosophy is about precision in language. That is, if we can say with more exactitude what we are mean, then we enhance the chances of someone understanding us.

The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, in his philosophical system, demonstrated “that traditional philosophical problems can be avoided entirely by application of an appropriate methodology, one that focuses on analysis of language.” One of his more famous quotations is “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (Tractatus 7).

Effective language communicates, and does so by using concrete and specific images. Too many words confound rather than enlighten. Also, for students, their writing needs to be appropriately formal—not “it means the stuff we know about” kind of statements.

One example to argue for precision in language is the word "love" from Old Testament Greek. Today, we might talk about cars in terms that might sound like: “I love my Ford Mustang.” But in what sense do we “love” it?

"Love" translated into English means any number of things, including: storge (family love); eros (passionate, romantic love); philia (brotherly love, best friend); and agape (unconquerable benevolence, invincible goodwill). Thus, when we use the word “love” we are saying a lot more than we may intend—or know.

When we speak of love without some differentiation, what we mean may not be what hearers understand. May we all be careful and say what we mean and mean what we say—especially the week of February 14—when love is in the air!

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